Fast fashion is ‘fast’ in a number of senses: the changes in fashion are fast, the rate of production is fast; the customer’s decision to purchase is fast; delivery is fast; and garments are worn fast – usually only a few times before being discarded.
The rise of fast fashion has had devastating consequences, from its reliance on plastic fabrics and its enormous carbon footprint to its erosion of workers’ rights.
In this article we explain what we mean when we say ‘fast fashion’ and why it is so bad for people and the planet.
What is fast fashion?
In the last few decades, we have seen fashion trends changing more and more quickly. Pressures on workers to produce more and at lower prices have grown alongside pressures on consumers to turn to the newest trends.
Fast changing trends
At its heart, the fast fashion business model relies on consumers endlessly buying more clothes. Brands tempt consumers by offering ultra-cheap garments (for example, Missguided’s £1 bikini) and ever-changing new ranges. At the time of writing, fast fashion brand Shein featured 21,139 clothes under the ‘New in’ section of its website.
Fashion brands have long used new styles and lower prices to attract customers, but previously brands would plan new ranges many months, even years, in advance. The pace of change was relatively slow and there were fewer products on offer. In comparison, fast fashion is focused on responding to ever-changing consumer tastes as quickly as possible.
For example, in the BBC’s ‘Breaking Fashion’ show we see Manchester-based fast fashion company, In the Style, reproducing a bodysuit worn by Kylie Jenner. The company manages to have the piece designed, manufactured and on sale within 10 days of the piece first being worn publicly by the celebrity.
The rise of fast fashion is intertwined with social media and celebrity/influencer culture. A celebrity posts a photo wearing a new outfit, and their followers want it, so fast fashion brands rush to be the first to provide it. Fast fashion brands often target young people - so called Gen Zs -, who have been brought up amongst social media and influencer culture. In fact, a recent survey found that almost 75% of 18-24 year olds believe influencers can be held somewhat accountable for the rise in disposable fashion.
Of course, the flow of causality is not that simple: fast fashion brands are not simply reacting to consumer demand, they are also creating it. But the essential point is that these brands operate on the basis of constantly producing new lines of clothes to meet the insatiable and ever-changing consumer demand for all things new.